Otto Warmbier, the American college student who had been imprisoned in North Korea for over a year, has died, according to a statement from his family.
Warmbier, a 22-year-old University of Virginia student who traveled to the reclusive Asian country at the end of 2015, was released last week but was in a coma.
“When Otto returned to Cincinnati late on June 13th he was unable to speak, unable to see and unable to react to verbal commands. He looked very uncomfortable — almost anguished,” his parents, Fred and Cindy, said in a statement.
He died Monday afternoon surrounded by his family.
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Warmbier had been sentenced to a 15-year prison term in North Korea for an alleged theft of a propaganda poster and was charged with “crimes against the state.” He was arrested when he tried to leave the country after his five-day tour with a Chinese tourism company. Other American citizens on his trip were allowed to leave North Korea without incident.
“It would be easy at a moment like this to focus on all that we lost — future time that won’t be spent with a warm, engaging, brilliant young man whose curiosity and enthusiasm for life knew no bounds,” the Warmbier family statement said. “But we choose to focus on the time we were given to be with this remarkable person.”
Doctors had not determined how Warmbier became comatose. The medical team treating him at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center said he had brain damage consistent with respiratory arrest cutting off oxygen to the brain. Warmbier had allegedly been in the condition since shortly after he was sentenced in North Korea in March 2016. The regime alleged his coma was the result of botulism and a sleeping pill, and said it released him on humanitarian grounds.
Doctors said Warmbier’s body showed no evidence of fractures from severe beatings.
At least three other Americans are currently detained in North Korea, which has launched nine missile strikes so far this year while President Donald Trump has been in office.
Trump offered his condolences to the family in a statement Monday afternoon.
“Otto’s fate deepens my administration’s determination to prevent such tragedies from befalling innocent people at the hands of regimes that do not respect the rule of law or basic human decency,” Trump said. “The United States once again condemns the brutality of the North Korean regime as we mourn its latest victim.”